Top African literary talent in 2021 AKO Caine Prize finalists

·3-min read

This year’s AKO Caine Prize finalists for the best African short story shed light on important universal themes, which profoundly resonate with readers across the board, according to head judge Goretti Kyomuhendo.

The writers “are dealing with themes such as loss, hope, love, history, politics…so readers will be able to identify with all the themes presented in the stories,” says Kyomuhendo, speaking to Africa Calling podcast.

Finalists include Doreen Baingana (Uganda), who wrote “Lucky”, Rémy Ngamije (Rwanda/Namibia) with “The Giver of Nicknames”, Meron Hadero (Ethiopia/US) for her work, “The Street Sweep”; “This Little Light of Mine”, written by Troy Onyango (Kenya) and Iryn Tushabe (Uganda/Canada) with “A Separation.”

Their stories really present different images of the continent that demand to be read, demand to be seen, says Kyomuhendo, who is also the director of the African Writer’s Trust in Kampala.

“The story entitled “The Street Sweep”, by the Ethiopian writer Meron Hadero is presenting all the big issues about the continent and the relationship with the west and international NGOs,” she says.

“At the heart of it, there is this narrator, a young Ethiopian man, who is representative of the Ethiopians who have to deal with these issues,” she adds.

The themes cut across these images of the African continent, true representations of what is happening on the continent, says the judge. Other stories focus on war in Uganda, contemporary life in Kenya, and pain and loss when having to emigrate.

“All these themes and images are true representations of what is happening on the continent, and we really hope and feel that these images demand to be read, that readers across the board will read and identify with and enjoy,” says Kyomuhendo.

The selection process was challenging for the five judges, because the level of writing is quite high, says Kyomuhendo, adding that the competitive selection was made from 128 entries with writers submitting from 22 countries.

With such a varied selection, judges are looking for one thing: highly polished stories.

“It’s the craft— we’re not looking at themes, or the person writing, but good writing should shine through everything else,” says Kyomuhendo.

Africans publishing in Africa

For Kyomuhendo, there is also great pride in the fact that three of this year’s finalists were published by Africa-based literary journals: Ibua, based in Uganda, then Doek! based in Namibia, and Lolwe, in Kenya.

“For me this is very important because it shows that Africa writers and other publishing professionals have succeeded and are succeeding in creating their own publishing centers, instead of always looking to the west for publishing opportunities,” says Kyomuhendo.

African writers, especially those based on the continent, have not had enough publishing opportunities, or important or established publishing avenues, she says, and they usually have to send their stories to be published in the west.

“These three literary journals, based on the continent, are good enough, strong enough, competitive enough to appear on the shortlist, and this is very profound,” she adds.

The short stories can be read on the AKO Caine Prize website.

The AKO Caine Prize has been running for more than two decades and is the biggest endowed literary award for African writers. The winner will receive £10,000, while the finalists will receive £500.

It is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc, who was Chairman of the 'Africa 95' arts festival in Europe and Africa in 1995 and for nearly 25 years Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee.

The winner has not yet been selected from the five finalists—the judges will meet one more time to discuss the winner, who will be announced on 26 July.

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